Coding for Kindergarten!

You can hardly get through the week without coding appearing as a headline in the news somewhere. All the big companies are getting involved with coding initiatives and all of the governments are supporting coding with their own endeavours. Here are a few examples:

Google to Donate $190K To ‘Black Girls Code’ Initiative

Microsoft Releases ‘Minecraft’ Tutorial That Teaches Kids To Code

Coding gets boost in Ontario schools: Education Minister announces new resources, help for teachers.”

Coding coming to B.C. schools: B.C. spending $2M on mandatory student coding curriculum.”

When I was in school (a long…long time ago!), there was one course in computer programming and it was taught in Grade 11 and I’m pretty sure it was an elective, meaning you didn’t have to take it.  Today, instead of the one high school course, educational systems are trying to come up with a scope and sequence to make coding accessible to all grade levels. There is a push to get everyone to code. There is a push to get girls to code. And there is a push for teachers to incorporate coding into their lessons.

Why is there this big push? Well…

COMPUTERS ARE EVERYWHERE!

Computers are automating the work-place; so we need to teach people how to programme them. There were as many as 7 million job openings in 2015 in occupations that required coding skills (Click here for source); so we need to ensure our youth are able to apply for these jobs.   Coding is our new literacy! Our national language should be English, French, and reading and writing code! Learning how to code will help kids navigate their future, understand their world and increase their odds of landing a job when they graduate.

But the benefits of learning how to code extend even further than that!

Steve Jobs said,  “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”

And I agree! Here are my top 10 ‘mathy’ reasons for teaching kids to code:

  1. Coding teaches problem-solving skills
  2. Coding teaches logical reasoning
  3. Coding teaches spatial reasoning
  4. Coding teaches you to check your work
  5. Coding teaches you to correct your work (debug)
  6. Coding teaches you critical thinking
  7. Coding teaches math in an authentic real-world way
  8. Coding teaches algorithms
  9. Coding teaches coordinate geometry and translations
  10. Coding teaches perseverance!

“The computational thinking involved in computer programming involves logic, organizing and analyzing data, and breaking a problem into smaller and more manageable parts. Much of this is also required when solving math problems!” Sri Ramakrishnan of Tynker

So what can you do? Well, at the pre-school level, kids don’t need screen time in order to learn how to code. There are tons of toys and games that support coding these days and you can use them to introduce your kids to coding language.

Here are a few of Rory and Oliver’s favourite games:

Littlecodr (developed right here in B.C.!)

This game comes with specific challenges, although we’ve never used them. Instead, the kids have fun creating their own challenges such as: programme Rory to do a little dance, programme Mom to do a loop around the room, figuring out how far we can get Oliver to go using only 10 codes, and many more!

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Oliver programming Rory to dance!

Code and Go Robot Mouse

There are many different versions of coding robots out there: coding caterpillar, BeeBot, Dash and Dot or ours…the mouse. The mouse also comes with challenges and you can change the board shape around, or add more walls, or even have a rogue mouse and not use the board! Here we are integrating math by teaching the mouse how to count from 1-5. Rory found it challenging and eventually broke it into two parts: code for 1-3 and then code for 3-5.

I was introduced to this game at a pro-d recently and ran out and bought it. I love it for the extensions. You can start with simple commands (so Oliver can play) and you can choose whether or not to include harder challenges as your kids become more comfortable with coding. As a result, your kids can grow with it.

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Oliver programming his turtle!

Code.org

Ready for taking it on-line? Well code.org is amazing. I can’t believe it is free. I can’t believe how well it is laid out. I can’t believe how easy it is to learn how to code! They have lesson plans, tasks, lists of standards etc. Rory and Oliver loved it.

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Rory and Oliver programming an angry bird!

Don’t be afraid of coding. I haven’t a clue what I’m doing! Remember, I only have that one computer programming course to back me up and it was in BASIC! But I’m learning along with my kids and loving the process! And more importantly….so are they!

Click here for a list of other coding programs that are good for education.

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Full STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) ahead!

THE DISCOVERY

This past summer,  I bought Rory a YOXO Helicopter construction toy (for only $10 at Chapters!). As soon as we got home, he was dying to dig into it, but I said no (…after watching  Shonda Rhimes’ TED Talk  I might have answered differently)! I wanted him to wait until I had time to help him with it; after all, he was only 4 and a half and couldn’t possibly make a helicopter all by himself!

When we finally did open it, I realized I needn’t have bothered; it is designed so that little people can intuitively build things on their own! Rory looked at the pictures and quickly figured out how to build the helicopter all by himself. He dismissed me immediately and insisted that he didn’t need (nor want!) my help. “I can do it myself!!!!”  resonated throughout the house…and the yard…pretty sure even the neighbours up the street heard his proclamations!

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After building the helicopter, he proceeded to tear it apart so he could create something else. This continued until we finally had to put the toy away after he pummeled his brother for trying to destroy his new inventions!

YIPPEE FOR YOXO!

If you’re looking for something to do over the holidays, THIS IS IT!! YOXO is an amazing first step to engaging your child (boy or girl) with STEM. Children gain experience engineering their own creation using the material provided, or by improvising with their own. Unlike Lego, that can only fit other Lego pieces, YOXO is built to incorporate many items – boxes, toilet rolls, even Lego bases can fit into the hatch marks on a YOXO piece. As a result, the possibilities are endless and there is no limit to what can be engineered.

It is appropriate for all age groups. Oliver, only 3, was proud of his creations. Rory, almost 5, wanted more challenge. The colour-coding helped when my 3 year old wanted to follow the instructions, while my older son used the numbers to follow the steps. Other age groups may skip the instructions all together (hmmm…sounds like my husband)!

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EXPERIENTIAL STEM

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (includes arts in the acronym) by definition, is experiential; it is taking those subjects, integrating them and then applying them in a meaningful way. If you google STEM, you will find a plethora of lessons or materials that are pushing STEM education right now. The idea of a transdisciplinary curriculum that weaves subjects seamlessly together is not new;  for years, educators have recognized the benefits of an integrated curriculum. 

What is new, is the finding that the majority of the jobs in the future will be in STEM fields, so whatever we can do now to prepare our students for then is important.

“Employment in occupations related to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels.” Dennis Viloria, 2014

To me, STEM is more than the sum of its parts, it’s a way of thinking.  At a STEM conference, my colleagues and I quickly realized that we wished the acronym STEM didn’t exist because it turns away all those kids with aversions to science or math. We thought a more appropriate name should be DESIGN THINKING. Regardless of what you want to call it, there are lots of things you can do to aid in its development and get children excited about it, even in the early years. YOXO is just one way.

Here are a few other suggestions, so you too can move: Full STEAM ahead!

  1. Nature!!!!
  2. Bloco
  3. Lego
  4. Little bits
  5. Transport toys from Battat
  6. Magnatiles
  7. Maker space 
  8. Design Challenges
  9. Tinker toys
  10. Clipo by Playskool or Funskool

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Have more suggestions? Leave them in the comments section!